PARLIAMENT HOUSE, CANBERRA
MANAGER OF OPPOSITION BUSINESS, TONY BURKE: Good morning. In the last five minutes an email has been circulated throughout Parliament House, the Presiding Officers have backed down on the segregation rules that were put in place on our last day of sitting. That day, when segregation was introduced into the public galleries, I wrote immediately on behalf of the Labor Party to Speaker Bronwyn Bishop and said that there needed to be an explanation as to why on earth this change had been made, a change that appeared to have no logic attached to it, it needed to be explained.
The backdown today is welcomed, but the need to explain why on earth we have been through this farce, remains. The need for the Speaker and the President to explain what possessed them to think that segregation was a good idea. It’s clear from the email that’s gone around that the decision to not go ahead is after they have received the security advice that they said they would be waiting for. So it means that segregation was previously introduced, apparently, with no security advice attached to it and no security reason attached to it. The best the President of the Senate could come up with, was to say that Members of Parliament needed to be protected from interjections as though of all the things that could threaten a Member of Parliament, it’s the one thing that we all do to each other all day.
We’ve still had two weeks where the official policy of the Australian Parliament has been to have segregate public galleries. This needs to be explained, they need to explain why we went through this farce and we need to make sure this does not happen again. I don’t want a situation where people come to this nation or hear about it throughout the world as a nation which has segregation in some form. I want children to learn about segregation when they’re reading the court room scenes from To Kill a Mockingbird not when they come on their excursion to Parliament House. It’s been an absurd fortnight as we’ve waited for a backdown that logically had to occur, and the Presiding Officers, both the Speaker and the President, need to explain why on earth this farce was initiated.
JOURNALIST: Are you satisfied with all the security arrangements at Parliament at the moment in the new environment?
BURKE: If something’s a genuine security issue then that’s fine. Apparently today we’re now protected by tape as we walk in and out of the door, there’s different forms of security. I’m not a security expert, I’m not going to pretend any of that, but if security measures are put in place they need to be based on security advice not on whim or prejudice.
JOURNALIST: Is it disappointing Australia missed out on the Inter-Parliamentary Union Presidency?
BURKE: Whenever an Australian goes for an international position, if they get it then that’s probably a good outcome for Australia. I was not critical of the Speaker Bronwyn Bishop’s attempt to try to get that position, those sorts of positions when they come through can be good for Australia. How this played in, I’ve got to say is an absolutely a secondary issue. What matters is what sort of Australia we want to be and whether or not we’re going to be a country that has segregation.
JOURNALIST: Are they linked?
BURKE: I wasn’t there, I wasn’t voting, I don’t know.
JOURNALIST: Do you want to see the Speaker first thing this morning explain exactly the reasoning behind the original decision and this decision today.
BURKE: I think we understand the decision today, the decision today is based on security advice. The decision of a fortnight ago no one seems to know what it was based on and that is what the Speaker needs to explain publicly.
JOURNALIST: You won’t be moving any motions in Parliament to try and bring on an explanation?
BURKE: My presumption is that an explanation will be given. If it’s not given then we’ll look at where we are then. Thank you.